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Grandia (PlayStation) artwork

Grandia (PlayStation) review

"Great at most everything except the ability to challenge."

In theory, Grandia is the sort of game I should despise. It's a really easy RPG that features one of those amazingly spunky, never-say-die youthful heroes whose over-exaggerated optimism is as easy for me to endure as having my skin scoured by a cheese grater. Strange thing is that I played this game in 1999 when it was released in America for the PlayStation and revisited it this year and guess what? I had a really good time because it does as good a job at making character-building fun as any RPG I've played.

Usually when I play these games, I coast through most fights with regular attacks, only using spells and special moves against major opponents when they actually might prove necessary. With Grandia, I only used regular attacks when I'd run out of magic and skill points. Why? Because every single thing you do in this game leads to your characters getting more powerful. More strength, more intelligence and superior spells can all be accessed by repeatedly using what you initially have at your disposal.

Let's start with weapons. There are a number of different weapon classes in the game, with each character able to equip two or three. Every time you either use a combat skill or attack normally, you'll get points toward gaining a weapon level. Each time you earn 100 points and increase that weapon level, your character will gain points in a couple of their stats. The more you use weapons, the better your stats will be.

However, there also are spells. Initially, you won't be able to cast any, but as you start finding Mana Eggs in dungeons, you'll be able to go to a town's general store and use those eggs to purchase the ability to cast spells in any of four classes -- fire, water, earth and wind. By repeatedly casting the entry-level stuff initially received, you'll gain points and, once again, increase levels with every 100 earned. Not only will you get stat increases for doing this, but by gaining enough levels in any class of magic, you'll also start getting new spells. Obtain more Mana Eggs, so a character can cast spells in multiple classes and you'll then start obtaining spells in new classes created from merging two of the four original. For example, after gaining a few levels in Fire and Earth and you'll unlock the Explosion class, but if you pick Fire and Wind to improve, you'll start getting Lightning spells.

AND THAT'S NOT ALL! Under each spell's name in the menu is one or more stars. These indicate how quickly a character will cast it when selected. The more you cast spells, the more stars appear under them. Initially, it takes a few seconds to charge one up, but after obtaining the maximum number of stars, they'll be cast instantly, so you don't have to worry about enemies sneaking in their own attacks while you're waiting. Add in the fact that successful attacks can delay or even cancel an enemy's move and it become obvious that the more proficient your characters are at getting off high-powered attacks in a hurry, the easier combat is.

And that's the main flaw of Grandia: It's almost comically easy. When you've built up your characters and are using the best attacks they are at least fairly proficient with, you can effortlessly brutalize even bosses to the degree where it's rare they even have the opportunity to offer slight resistance. I mean, when you're fighting a multi-headed dragon capable of unleashing up to four or five attacks per round and it can't pull any of them off because you manage to cancel out virtually everything it has with your own assault, things might be a bit askew. When I was replaying this game, I took notes on what aspects of it challenged me and came up with this definitive list.

1. The first form of the three-part final battle.
2. The opposition in the game's three optional dungeons.

Everything else? Bludgeoned, battered and beaten into submission, as my cheerful, young brawlers stomped the life out of everything in their path while skipping on to their next destination with a happy little song in their hearts. It's good this game has a fun, goofy sort of personality that did as much to keep me interested as all the options to build up my characters.

Many members of the team which created the Lunar series also worked on this game, which should be no surprise to anyone who knows anything about both games' plots. Protagonist Justin is the brother The Silver Star's Alex never knew he had -- a young lad with the humble goal of becoming the greatest adventurer the world has ever known. After all, his father adventured for a living and what child doesn't want to exceed their parents' feats? Tagging along with him is younger gal-pal Sue and her weird little pet, so the lands around the harbor city of Parm soon have a pair of grade-schoolers running around and bopping various snakes and other assorted critters with weapons. Eventually, Justin blunders into a cool discovery in the local ruins and decides upon the greatest adventure ever: to find the mystical city of Alent and solve the mysteries of the ancient Angelou civilization. And so, he buys a ticket to board a ship to cross the ocean and runs away from home. Sue, not wanting to be left out of the loop, stows away on the ship and, after a few wacky misadventures, our young heroes are in a different land, ready to explore all of its mysterious sights. First and foremost: crossing the vast wall only known as The End Of The World.

Oh yeah. In the handful of hours it takes to get to this part, a pair of important developments happened that make Justin's boyhood dream of exploration a bit more complicated. While in those ruins where he first heard about Alent and Angelou, there was an army searching for…something. And guess what? That "something" happens to tie in with what Justin's doing. His father had passed on a relic known as a Spirit Stone and one of the army's commanders, Mullen, feels that item is essential to his mission. These guys are going to hound Justin's trail for a long time. Then, on the ship, the adventurer-in-training gets to meet Feena. Despite being roughly his age, she is renown as one of the more respected adventurers in the area and immediately serves as a role model for Justin and Sue. When Justin's irrepressible spirit and enthusiasm teach her about the true meaning of being an adventurer, before you know it, we have a romantic sub-plot (even if he is too dense to realize this for what seems an eternity).

What makes all of this work for me is how playing through Grandia's story reminds me of binge-watching a dramatic, yet light-hearted cartoon. Justin's mom disciplines him by bashing him over the head with a pan. Mullen is more amused and impressed by Justin's moxie than annoyed some brat is getting in the way of his mission. Amongst the commander's minions are a trio of female sergeants whose demeanor could be compared to Lucy from "Peanuts" in her most tyrannical mood -- sadists whose actions are near-unanimously played for laughs. As for the drama, this is one of those few games which truly succeeds in making its world feel vast. When Justin and company reach the top of The End Of The World, you can feel their excitement. Hell, you'll share in it, especially when you realize there's still a vast world on the other side of the wall.

By "vast", I technically mean there are a ton of dungeons to explore. Grandia doesn't have an actual world to explore. Instead, you get to look upon a map of the area your party is currently in and choose the location you want to visit. Many of the various ruins you'll visit prove to be fun to explore, often actually seeming to be long-abandoned buildings once belonging to an ancient civilization. Sometimes, members of the opposing army are there, creating roadblocks you'll have to find a way around. Traps abound in many of them, whether they be spikes shooting out of walls or simply crumbling bits of architecture falling on your heads while you're trying to find the proper path to the place's innermost chambers and the revelations awaiting your party.

However, there also are a lot of transitional regions. Whenever Justin announces a plan to hit up a certain town or set of ruins, you can bet on having to cross a forest or mountain range to get there. By the time I'd reached the game's second disc, I was beyond tired of the game's many, many forest locales. While some of them featured traps such as hero-munching plants or bizarre trees that bounce on top of your guys, they still tend to look the exact same and only rarely offer anything more than a short dungeon to whet your appetite for the bigger, more interesting one coming up next.

While this is a very easy game with more than its fair share of filler dungeons, it still delivers the goods as far as the "fun factor" goes. The battle system encourages players to use every spell and skill on hand in order to build their characters up into juggernauts, while the plot does a fine job of combined the light-hearted antics of youthful adventurers with the epic scale of a vast world to explore. While not a perfect game, or even one that really deserves to be considered "great", Grandia is enjoyable and well worth the time it takes to cruise through its world.


overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (September 16, 2016)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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EmP posted September 16, 2016:

God I loved this game. Right up until the end. It has such a sickly sweet ending where the supporting cast were suddenly abandoned without notice. The running joke I used to share with DoI (whatever happened to that guy?) was that the game ended right about the time the final boss turned into a feathered tree that made dreams come true.

Also. "Two hundred million degrees - take this!" has always stuck with me as a ridiculously awesome spell quote.
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overdrive posted September 16, 2016:

Lol, yeah, EVERYONE (except Baal) got a happy ending. With Mullen's being the most bizarre with the "Well, most everyone got what they wanted... *light appears*...holy crap Leen is back everyone, I win too!!!!!!!!!!" deal.

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